Business Analysis Pitfalls: The Speedreading Walkthrough

A cartoon with BA saying - only 20 minutes left - I will read faster.

Have you ever tried to learn speed reading? Do you remember the experience?

I have tried it. I worked very hard but after completing the course, I felt vaguely unsatisfied. When I completed the exercises and practiced my peripheral vision, I could discern the main thought, but the details eluded me. 

Since then, I learned that many studies show speedreading is correlated with loss of comprehension, unless you have a unique, one in a million, ability. The faster you read, the less chance you give your brain to process the information and at least deposit it into its short-term memory, before it can move to your long-term memory for long-term storage and recall.

Now, how well do you think will your brain process information that someone else is reading to you at high speed? Can you speed-listen?

For example, have you ever set your audio book to play at 1.25x speed by mistake? What about the high speed of the running commentary in some sports games? How good was your comprehension? 

I have met some business analysts that could read aloud very fast. They must have been prodigious readers when in school. How do I know this? I have heard them read requirements aloud to large groups of people, at accelerated speed – as if in a competition. I have seen eyes in the audience glaze over. My own ability to follow was compromised at the end of the first sentence. 

Sometimes, I am reminded of how during a phone service call, a service representative is obligated to read full terms and conditions to the customer. The customer may be ready to agree, but the service rep will say: “I am obligated to read you the terms and conditions in full. I am not allowed to accept your agreement unless you listen to this in full.”

And then they read very fast. And usually, you don’t listen. You just wait for it to be over.

Dear Business Analyst:

Reading business requirements aloud to a group of people, one after another, in the sequence that you chose, is doomed. 

Requirements cannot be validated by listening to fast speech. Validation, at the very least, requires comprehension. Speed reading (and speed listening) is completely unsuitable for understanding, discussing and validating requirements.

Even auditory learners (a minority in most audiences) need time to digest what they hear and establish their own connections. The majority of people need to see the content to visually process it. They also may need to validate and cross-reference the information in a different way and different sequence than what you are enforcing in a requirement walkthrough. 

By the way, most people cannot read and listen at the same time. And when I read what you wrote (while you are reading it to me), I will likely read at a slower pace than you can speak. I will be way behind after the first sentence. I know all your sentences make sense to you and you can sail through your text at high speed. But to anyone else, it may be harder going. 

We will need to pause very frequently – sorry if it disrupts your schedule. 

Why do you insist on reading the requirements to the room, one after another? Your audience knows how to read. 

Is it because you don’t trust that your audience read the document in advance? Have they even seen the document before?

Does it give you a sense of control over the meeting? 

Does it feel like this is the most efficient way to “get through the walkthrough”? 

Does it seem like you have the power to set your own pace and “deliver requirements on time”?

What surprises me is how rarely I hear anyone speak up to interrupt this practice. Whether the audience is resigned to this practice, or they did review the requirements before, or they no longer believe anything they say will make a difference – hard to say.

Many times, I’ve found myself a lone person in the room who will keep saying “Could you please slow down” or “Can we pause here”. Sometimes I wondered whether anybody else was even trying to listen. Or who still believes that getting the requirements right will make any difference for the final product.

If this ever happens in your organization, please do not just listen passively while furtively trying to read.

Speak up. Change the practice. Change the mindset.

A business analyst must take responsibility for shared understanding of business requirements. It requires combining many methods and tactics. The requirements cannot be validated linearly – a coherent requirement structure helps. The requirements have to be reviewed and explained many times, many ways.

What does not help is reading requirements one by one, fast.

More posts in the Business Analysis Pitfalls category.

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  1. Excellent article! I completely agree with you. Business requirements have to be explained many times and in many ways!

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